CfP RGS 2016: The nexus of art and geography as practice as research

Convenors: Cara Courage, University of Brighton and Anita McKeown, SMARTlab, University College Dublin.

RGS 2016 Annual International Conference, London, Tuesday 30 August to Friday 2 September.

Spatial practices are not unique to geography, historically artists have engaged with materialities as social practice (Courage, 2015; Kester, 2011; Lacy, 1998) physical environments (landscape painting, perspective) and exploring and shaping concepts of time and space (virtual worlds, telematics/telepresence). Both fields share experiences of spatial and social turns in theory (Soja, 2008; Bishop, 2006; Bourriaud, Massey, 2005), and practice (Mel Chin; In Certain Places; M12; France Whitehead) with theoretical, methodological and epistemological impacts.  

As the Century of the System (Gawande, 2014) progresses it is no longer possible for any single discipline to address potential future concerns and systemic approaches will be required to address current nexus challenges; water, food, energy, climate, economic growth and human security challenges. As part of a growing inter- and transdisciplinary concern to research and practice, the dissolving of both academic and sector field-specific boundaries is emerging. Methodological promiscuity is common practice within arts practice, matured through a half century of non-object, process-orientated practices, cross-pollinating and fertilising ideas across ‘disciplinary frontiers to address global challenges for humanity and the earth’s myriad of systems’ (McKeown, 2015).  

The artistic and spatial turn across arts and geographical disciplines and the conversation is not an exclusive, but mutual conversation. Artistic practices utilise geographical methods; Cartography, GIS, Spatial Inquiry, Participant Observation and share research interests with geography e.g. information modelling, a cultural and emotional engagement with place. Equally, geographers are utilising arts based methods (Hawkins, 2012; Rose, 2011); visual and performative methods and methodologies e.g. Photography, Compositional Analysis, the Situationist’s dérive, to expand their understanding of the world and make connections to synthesise knowledge between disciplines.

This panel, taking inspiration from the nexus theme of the RGS-IBG 2016 annual conference, aims to bring together ‘artist-geographers’ and ‘geographer-artists’ to present on the perspective of practice-based/practice as research, engaged in nexus discourse towards social-ecological resilience.

We are seeking a range of submissions from artists, geographers, researchers, curators commissioners, scientists or others working in this area, and papers might address, but are not limited to:

·         Systems thinking for knowledge production within the Arts / Geographic practices

·         Practices encouraging collaborative research and interdisciplinary problem-finding

·         Practice as research and the development of new methodologies through fieldwork.

·         Discovering new questions through collaborative research

·         Exploring symbiotic relationships towards different ways of knowing and producing knowledge within Arts and Geography collaborations

·         Agile adaptive behaviour - The fluid state between specialist and non-specialist; itinerant academics and artists

Please submit an abstract for consideration, of no more than 250 words, with a short biog, by Friday, 29th January 2016, to cara@caracourage.net and anita@smartlab-ie.com. Successful applicants will be informed by 5th February, to confirm attendance by 12th February. 

2016 conferences

 

January 2016 sees me delivering a paper, Performative architecture: reclaiming a vital architectural practice (abstract below) at the All-Ireland Architecture Research Group annual conference; and then talk about my PhD research, in relation to community groups making change in their built environment, at the British Academy-funded Landscaping Change conference, organised by Dr Samantha Walton at Bath Spa University. I will also be returning to the American Association of Geographers annual conference in March/April, co-convening a session, Creative Placemaking and Beyond, with National College of Art and Design, Dublin’s Anita McKeown (abstract below, and more details on that will follow).

Landscaping Change conference takes place at the Arnolfini, Bristol, on 1st January.

AIARG conference takes place in Cork, 29th and 30th January.

AAG conference takes place in San Francisco, 9th March to 2nd April.

 

AIARG abstract:

Performative architecture: reclaiming a vital architectural practice

This paper will present performativity in architecture as an emplaced social arts practice, performed on the margins of formal urban space and architectural practice in liminal and meanwhile spaces, a critical spatial practice (Rendell 2006) in the urban public realm.

The paper will locate this thinking in contemporary practices of ‘social practice placemaking’ (SPPM) (Courage 2014) and will draw on global examples of SPPM, including that from the author’s PhD research project, ‘Making places: performative arts practices in the city’, signposting examples of masterplanning and architectural build that have successfully incorporated this approach, such as that of Croydon Council’s award-winning placemaking-led regeneration.

It will position this contemporary practice as one where architects and artists work together in a collaborative practice, and co-produced with the micropublic (Amin 2008) in positions of relative expertism. Inherent in this co-produced practice is a subverting of sector normative representation and power, of who can speak for whom, when and how, if at all and will thus argue for performative architecture as questioning and support of intersectional production and use of space. As a post-modern social arts practice, performative architecture will be positioned in the arts canon both with and contra too the avant-garde (Kester 2013) and new genre public art (Lacy 2008), relational aesthetics (Bourriaud 1998). It will argue that performative architecture is of a dialogic aesthetic (Kester 2004, 2013), productive of new cultures of architectural knowledge.

The paper will close with a provocation to the architecture sector on its need to adopt co-productive modes of design to maintain, and arguably reclaim, its cultural significance in the built environment, essential for the future of the sector in extending its practice, reaffirming its relevance and ensuring its vital role in the current and future urban realm.

 

AAG CfP (now closed) abstract:

Creative Placemaking and Beyond: Continuing and re-invigorating the arts-led conversation

This session will continue the interrogation of notions of creative placemaking started at the RGS 2015 annual conference, bringing this conversation to the US and to broadening its international and sectoral/practice discussion. 

The creative placemaking (Landesman 2009) term has entered the arts-driven placemaking sector narrative presented as a ‘new [U.S.] policy platform across all levels of government’ (Markusen and Gadwa 2010:26) with a particular ethos; a cross-sectoral approach to arts-led regeneration (Markusen and Gadwa 2010) and of including non-arts stakeholders within community revitalisation (Poticha, 2011).

With contemporary debates around creative placemaking and its relations now reaching a moment in maturity and diversity a critique and a deeper understanding of practice is necessary.

Persistent questions arise around issues of arts practice/process, power relations, individual and community agency and creative placemaking’s relation vis-à-vis the neoliberal. As such, this session encourages a re-consideration of the role of the arts and creativity within socially-engaged placemaking practices for their potential to encourage self-organisation and how citizens can take the initiative in effecting their lived spacetime (McCormack 2013). It seeks to broaden the constituents in the creative placemaking discourse through presenting an international conversation that focuses on socially practiced, co-produced and citizen-led placemakings, addressing issues of scale, interdisciplinarity and radical practices within creative place production and co-production.

Given the vital need also for theorists to be in dialogue with practitioners, this session is seeking abstracts from both constituencies, with papers spanning theory and practice and examples of where the two intersect in the academy or in the field. It thus aims to provide a critical assessment of creative placemaking and of community driven placemaking (Hou and Rios 2003) and social design across all settlement types and conceptual, empirical, methodological papers are invited.

 

 

Brighton and Hove Urban Ramblers

Its been exactly a year since I started Brighton and Hove Urban Ramblers...and its been one of the most enjoyable things I have done.

In this first year 612 people have joined the group; we've had 9 rambles, with another 2 to go this year and another 5 in the schedule already for next year; 3 of those rambles have been specifically guided, thank you David Bramwell for the back passages, Claire Potter Design for the foraging and fizz, and Dan Wilson for the churches, and thank you in advance Matt Weston and The Brighton School for the Stones and Donna Close for the public art; and the largest single group was 37 in number, for the May Artists Open Houses - we looked amazing, filled the houses to bursting, and stopped traffic.

Parasites Abroad

In grappling with my research data and writing up my thesis, I am struck by how the work of social practice arts in placemaking - something I have come to term 'social practice placemaking' - is the notional parasite in the neoliberal, culturised built environment ecology, the break in the signal-noise of top-down city making. 

Its thinking that I am playing with at the moment, and it may go no further than to act as a hypothetical tipping point into something else, but I am reminded of a masters (Psychosocial Studies MSc) presentation I did on parasitical theory and Woody Allen's 'Vicky, Christina, Barcelona', a film that is an adept imagining of the theory. I did a presentation on this, which can be found here

 

AAG 2016 CfP: Creative Placemaking and Beyond, part 2

CfP - Creative Placemaking and Beyond: Continuing and re-invigorating the arts-led conversation

Convenors: Cara Courage, University of Brighton and Anita McKeown, SMARTlab, University College Dublin.

This session will continue the interrogation of notions of creative placemaking started at the RGS 2015 annual conference, aiming to take this conversation to the US and broaden international and sectora/practice discussion.  

The creative placemaking (Landesman 2009) term has entered the arts-driven placemaking sector narrative presented as a ‘new [U.S.] policy platform across all levels of government’ (Markusen and Gadwa 2010:26) with a particular ethos; a cross-sectoral approach to arts-led regeneration (Markusen and Gadwa 2010) and of including non-arts stakeholders within community revitalisation (Poticha, 2011).

With contemporary debates around creative placemaking and its relations now reaching a moment in maturity and diversity a critique and a deeper understanding of practice is necessary.

Persistent questions arise around issues of arts practice/process, power relations, individual and community agency and creative placemaking’s relation vis-à-vis the neoliberal. As such, this session encourages a re-consideration of the role of the arts and creativity within socially-engaged placemaking practices for their potential to encourage self-organisation and how citizens can take the initiative in effecting their lived spacetime (McCormack 2013). It seeks to broaden the constituents in the creative placemaking discourse through presenting an international conversation that focuses on socially practiced, co-produced and citizen-led placemakings, addressing issues of scale, interdisciplinarity and radical practices within creative place production and co-production.

Given the vital need also for theorists to be in dialogue with practitioners, this session is seeking abstracts from both constituencies, with papers spanning theory and practice and examples of where the two intersect in the academy or in the field. It thus aims to provide a critical assessment of creative placemaking and of community driven placemaking (Hou and Rios 2003) and social design across all settlement types and conceptual, empirical, methodological papers papers are invited.

Papers might address, but are not limited to:

  • Challenges to the concepts of creative placemaking and citizen-driven placemaking
  • Examination and re-imagination of radical practices within arts-led community regeneration.
  • The role of the individual and the artist/practitioner and other professionals in ‘open source’ placemaking
  • Performing and un-performing place
  • Systemic approaches to creative placemaking and Place-based design - Dealing with complexity.
  • The role of administrations and policy development effected by grassroots placemakings
  • The personal is political – behavourial related interventions of placemaking beyond party political agendas.

Please submit an abstract for consideration, of no more than 250 words, by 25th October, to cara@caracourage.net and anita@smartlab-ie.com. Successful applicants will be informed by 27th October for their timely registration to AAG 2016. 

Call for Papers - The Archers in fact and fiction

The Archers in fact and fiction: Academic analyses of life in rural Borsetshire

Cara Courage, University of Brighton, Nicola Headlam, University of Liverpool and Peter Matthews University of Stirling invite the submission of abstracts to a seminar to take place on 17th February 2016 at University of Liverpool in London, Finsbury Square.

The seminar intends to take an academic perspective on life in Ambridge and Borsetshire, with papers from across academic disciplines. Papers might include:

·         A historical analysis of rural Britain as heard through Archers’ storylines

·         A cultural analysis of Archers’ fandom

·         A sociological analysis of class dynamics in rural Britain through the lives of Archers’

·         characters

·         A hydrology of the Am valley following the recent flooding events

·         Elderly care provision in the rural setting

·         Participatory and strategic planning in rural areas

·         Rural and village economics, from the village store to agribusiness

·         The statistical probability of no Ambridge residents listening to radio 4 at 2:00pm or 7:00pm

This list is not meant to be exclusive or exhaustive, but is meant to inspire you to think how your academic research can illuminate and explain life for the Archers and Ambridge. The day is intended to give academic fans of The Archers a platform to exercise their love of the programme and their subject area.

If you are a fellow Archers fan and academic please submit your abstract of 200 words to cara@caracourage.net, headlams@gmail.com and peter.matthews@stir.ac.uk by 16th November 2015.

How would you define social practice art?

I was asked 'what is social practice art' in a media interview today. This is what came to mind in the moment...

How would you define "social practice art"?

I wouldn’t. There are different definitions of this across continents, art forms, eras, and from artist to artist, project to project to and to rigidly define this is reductive. Social practice involves working with people in an active way, but how this manifests in each project, in each community and with each artist will be different – it’s more about a resonant feeling of doing social practice than a definition.

That’s not to say that I don’t engage with the debates on ‘what is social practice’ or think them not important, and the nuances of approaches these debates surface are integral to extending the practice as a whole; but we are all working from the one common denominator, of working actively with people in a social setting, and from there, practise will diverge. This I think is to the strength of the sector and its credit, this is where the breadth and depth of our work comes from and our relevance an value across all sorts of settings. 

 

Following on from the RGS...

Both myself and my co-convenor, Anita Mckeown, of the ‘Creative Placemaking and Beyond’ sessions at this year’s RGS-IBG annual conference were overwhelmed with its success and the feedback we got, and thank you all to Graeme Evans, Aditi Nargundkar Pathak, Marie Mahon and Anna Marazeula Kim, who delivered papers; to Alison Williams and Derek Jones, who facilitated the workshop session; and those 40-plus in number in the audience that came with us on this experiment in format and who added so much to the time we spent together – and dissolved the notion of the presenter-audience completely.

‘easily most coherent and interesting session I attended in the conference’

‘inspiring exchange of ideas’

‘a rich gathering of people and ideas’

Aside from the book chapters and papers ideas that were generated between us, Anita and I will be exploring ideas for maintaining the momentum and enthusiasm from the session and progressing ways to enable this – watch this space! 

RGS 2015

This week I am co-convening a double session at the 2016 Royal Geographical Society conference with fellow placemaking PhD-er Anita McKeown of National College of Art and Design, Ireland. 

Our session is entitled 'Creative Placemaking and Beyond' and includes sessions from (in alphabetical order): Aditi Nargundkar Pathak and Prathima Manohar (The Urban Vision, India); Alison Williams (Ravensbourne College, UK) and Derek Jones (The Open University, UK); Anna Marazeula Kim (University of Virginia, USA); and Annie Grundy (Articulture, Machynlleth, Ceredigion, Wales, UK), Deirdre O'Mahony (Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Galway, Ireland); Graeme Evans (Middlesex University, UK) and Marie Mahon (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland)

Its abstract can be found below and details of the session 1 here and session 2 here.  

Session abstract

The arts-driven placemaking sector has reached a moment in both maturity and diversity where it demands a critique and deeper understanding of practice. This session will expand on discussions at RGS2014 on the role of arts in place and co-production, specifically focusing on notions of creative placemaking (Markusen & Gadwa 2010) and socially-engaged placemaking practices and their potential vis-à-vis the Anthropocene and citizens activity taking the initiative in effecting their lived spacetime (McCormack 2013).

The RSA report ‘A New Agenda on Climate Change (2013) indicates that indicates that ‘about two thirds of the [UK] population intellectually accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change, but ‘deny’ some or all of the commensurate feelings, responsibility and agency that are necessary to deal with it’ (2013:3). If Creative Placemaking is to contribute to places-in-the-making (Silberberg, 2013) and encourage citizen-led agency new conceptual frameworks and practical methodologies will be required, advocating transdisciplinary, resilient processes and new models of theory and practice. There is a vital need for theorists to be in dialogue with practitioners so this session is seeking abstracts from both constituencies, with papers spanning theory and practice and examples of where the two intersect in the academy or in the field.

Positioned within the broader context of Planetary Urbanisation and the Age of the Anthropocene the session will focus on socially practiced, co-produced and citizen-led placemakings. Initiated in response to a bottom-up need or desire rather than a top-down imposition, and where the artist(s) and participants work in a team of ‘urban creatives’ (Klanten and Hübner 2010, though the convenors recognise that not all practices will be urban-located) a critical assessment of creative placemaking and of community driven placemaking (Hou and Rios 2003) and social design across all settlement types is considered.

Why Indianapolis is a test case for a fairer form of gentrification

This week, Guardian Cities published an article I wrote on one of my PhD case studies, Big Car in Indianapolis, and its arts-taking-the-control model of regeneration, focusing on its current development in the Garfield Park area of the city, which includes storefronts, warehouses and housing. 

The piece can be found here and my academic papers on the same to date. on acdemia.edu

Present day Fountain Square, Indianapolis. Image: Big Car.

Present day Fountain Square, Indianapolis. Image: Big Car.

THE DAY OF SMALL CONVERSATIONS

I was part of the drawing shed’s Some(w)Here Now THE DAY OF SMALL CONVERSATIONS at the Pump House Gallery, Battersea Park this week – an inspiring day to say the least.

Sally and Bobby from the drawing shed invited artists, critical theorists, architects, activists, public and mental health professionals and local people to collaborative in a day of dialogue – the small conversations – ‘exploring how artists may work collaboratively, with ‘local’ communities and in ‘public’ places, in the context of Now.’

The day was one close to my research area and the drawing shed is one of my PhD case studies so I had seen the social practice placemaking that they had been doing on the nearly Nine Elms estates, ideologically fuelled by this currently being the largest gentrification area in Europe. My role in the day was to act as a facilitator of the small conversations, an informal role that aimed to get talk started, pose questions, listen and respond. My colleagues in the same on the day were Lois Keidan, Live Art Development Agency; Jordan McKenzie, artist; Daniella Valz Gen, artist; Barby Asante, artist/curator/educator; Professor Adrian Renton, Public Health Physician, Professor, Institute for Health and Human Development, University of East London; Dr Debra Benita Shaw, Reader in Cultural Theory/Programme Leader, University of East London; Dr Chris Wood, Art Therapy Northern Programme, Sheffield; Shahed Saleem, architect/Make Space.

Our conversations were wide ranging as you would expect with such a diverse group of people, ranging from (and this is by far not an exhaustive list of topics): the social responsibility we feel as social practice artists; the nature of collaboration, participation and authorship; the politics surrounding this work and this sector; cultures of resilience, resistance and regeneration; and fed by thinking and questions developed in the drawing shed Facebook page over the previous week.

Comments from people of the day include:

What a really stimulating and fantastically curated.... conversations and ideas that will continue to resonate and percolate...I've also met some really new and interesting people today that I fell are going to be a part of my future thinking and art making....

It was the perfect antidote to the overwhelming anxiety I have been feeling in the current climate. Small conversations about huge things, and how to reclaim the meaning of 'human’.

It was a great day of conversation and really pushed the level of conversations about practice it's social effects and the political climate.

For me, it was an inspiring, meaningful and memorable day. It was lovely to see friends old and new. The day came for me at a time in my practice and research that has helped consolidate some thoughts, spark new thinking and open up new experiences and exchanges. Looking forward to seeing those unfold. The day reminded me of artist CPD from ‘the old days’, a day to explore, unfettered by having to follow an agenda, meet outcomes or create defined outputs, so, so needed and refreshing.

The SoapBox structures in this image were built with local residents and other members of the public in the three previous days.  

Soapboxes , the drawing shed, Pump House Gallery, June 2015. 

Soapboxes, the drawing shed, Pump House Gallery, June 2015. 


Look At The Estate We're In

Last week I was honoured to be part of the Look At The Estate We’re In (LATEWI) conference, organised by students at Camberwell College of Arts and Peckham Platform.

The subject of the conference in its largest form was the politics of the housing estate as they intersect with the arts, ‘an exploration of the unmapped relationship between the council estate, the community and the arts’.

I was part of the symposia talk, ‘Power to the People? Self organisation versus official arts organisations’, alongside Emily Druiff from Peckham Platform, Focus E15 Mothers, and Lois Keidan and Katy Baird from Live Art Development Agency. Our talk included the storytelling of the activist pressure group Focus E15 Mothers, and went on to discuss the relation between the ‘arts organisation’ and the activist artist. The photo with this blog post is of the Peckham Peace Wall, an apposite image that for me sums up the politic and art of the festival.

I also ran a LookUp workshop around Peckham, the photos from which can be found here.

Next week I will be continuing the conversations started at LATEWI, and starting others, at Some[w]Here Now – The Day of Small Conversations, at the Pump House Gallery. The day’s focus is on ‘exploring how artists may work collaboratively, with ‘local’ communities and in ‘public’ places, in the context of Now’ – and more information can be found here

Peckham Peace Wall, Peckham Square, London SE15. Peckham Platform (2012). 

Peckham Peace Wall, Peckham Square, London SE15. Peckham Platform (2012). 

What do (social practice) artists do?

I recently asked my networks of artists the question, ‘what do (social practice) artists do? The question took inspiration from Frances Whitehead's What Artists Know, spurred also by the confusion I sometimes meet in others around what the art is in this type of practice, and having to explain how play or talk is art - I feel now is a time to really call out for what this practice is and how it does it.

Below is a (very) first level complication of the many comments and views I received in response to this question. The initial call can be found here on FB.

 

We do things

Play, talk, listen, build, design, make, knit, cook, garden, storytell, film, draw, mould...

Disrupt, provoke, draw attention to, question, protest, experiment, inspire, raise awareness, trust, observe, connect, dream, fail, succeed...

Outside of institutions and institutional thinking

 

We work with

The community, community of place, of interest, of the marginalised, the silent

Self and other, individual and collective, everyone as equal participant, collaborate, co-produce

As an expert in our own right, with other experts in theirs - which has paramount the community as expert in their own lives

Not knowing what will happen

 

We make things...

Street furniture, meals, murals, films, stories, gardens, sculpture, song, images...

Prototypes, pilots, tests, debates, progress, encounters, fun, mess

Join together, people together, people and their place, autonomous and in solidarity

 

We help things happen...

People to see, people to speak, people to listen, people to reflect, people to change things, people to act again, relationships to form, networks to be made

Break resistance, encourage resistance, right wrongs, question the status quo and the ‘always-done’

Places to look nicer, places to feel better to be in, places to work for the people that use them, shape the future space and place as agents of change

 

We work in...

Streets, squares, houses, shops, parks, canals, car parks, schools

Physical spaces, material form, emotional places, contradictions, harmonies

Contested spaces, left-over spaces, forgotten spaces, hidden spaces, derelict spaces, potential places, the grassroots

Communities, businesses, offices, city hall’s, governments

 

Social practice art is active in the realm of creative and social interactions, embedded in its community location and equally concerned with the art process as much as the art object created through it, and the relation between its knowledge and that of others.

Social practice art is ever-evolving, all-encompassing and unbounded; no-one exhaustive or definitive list can exist for such a pursuit, but with social practice artists being called on by many – from the bottom up and the community, to top-down and the government – to help create material, social, cultural, political and economic betterment, there is cause now for a moment of reflection, articulation and further dialogue on what social practice artists do, where, how and why.

 

Cara Courage, work-in-(endless)-progress, 2015

Created in collaboration with: Jason Bowman, Donna Close, John Collins McCormick, Lloyd Davis, Terry Hardy, Sam Hewitt, Dimitri Launder, Shauta Marsh, Anita McKeown, Carol Parker, Rachel Preston Prinz, Stephen Pritchard, Matt Rudkin, Simone Sheridan, Lindsey Smith,  Charles Stanton, Peta Taylor, Dan Thompson, Chris Thorpe-Tracey, Daniella Vg, Jim Walker, Simon Wilkinson, Ed Woodham.

 

What Do (Social Practice) Artists Do?

Taking inspiration from Frances Whitehead's What do Artists Know, I am working on a similar list/manifesto for What Artists Do, in particular, What Social Practice Artists Do.

This is spurred in the first instance by the confusion I sometimes meet in others around what the art is in this type of practice, and having to explain how play, or cooking or gardening or talking is art, I feel now is a time to really call out for what this practice is and how it does it.

In the spirit of social practice art, this of course is a collaborative endeavour and when this gets published (in my thesis, on my website, in papers and at conference), all will be named.

So, my question to all of you, what is it that (social practice) artists do?

Please either email me or reply on the comments below. The results of this will be published here in due course. 

Dinner at the Carey Estate for residents, cooked by the artists, part of the drawing shed's Some[W]here in 9 Elms, Wandsworth project, May 2015 

Dinner at the Carey Estate for residents, cooked by the artists, part of the drawing shed's Some[W]here in 9 Elms, Wandsworth project, May 2015 

Moving beyond creative placemaking at AAG 2015

This April I presented a paper on my Indianapolis case study, Big Car, at the 2015 meeting of the American Association of Geographers in Chicago.

With 9.5K delegates and sessions that span all forms of geography, the conference was as busy and buzzing as you’d expect. The arts had a healthy presence in the programme and my paper, ‘Moving beyond creative placemaking: the micropublic of a social practice placemaking project’ was presented as part of the Creative Placemaking and its Micropublics. The session was convened by Martin Zebracki, University of Leeds, and Saskia Warren, University of Manchester; fellow speakers were Micheal Rios, University of California, and Annette Koh, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

My paper aimed to disrupt the creative placemaking term as one misused in the placemaking sector; from a vernacular aspect, commonly to mean any placemaking with any arts component in it; and on a policy level, as a placemaking approach that uses the arts in placemaking to economic ends. The focus of my PhD research has been on what I have come to term social practice placemaking, one where the arts are situated at the grassroots and primarily employed for social and cultural gain, the economic imperative found in creative placemaking either missing or of lower significance. Amin’s micropublics of the title was used as a theory to explain the agency of such projects to galvanise people around arts and place and this was framed in the example of my Indianapolis case study, Big Car. 


Open Engagement 2015

I attended this year’s Open Engagement conference on social practice art, held at Carnegie Mellon University and at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

The week started with a day tour of various arts projects across the city, a day curated by the Office of Public Art, a public art consultancy based in the city and working across the region. 

The tour started at the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, an arts education establishment working across artforms with young people and adults at all levels of education through after-school classes, adult ed and summer schools. We then went on to visit the inspiring City of Asylum, a human rights organisation that formed to house asylum-seeking writers, the houses of which have been decorated with the artist’s work of poems and prose. The afternoon started at contemporary art museum Mattress Factory with presentations from a variety of social practice arts projects, including Side Street Projects, a mobile social practice placemaking group with an HQ in Pasadena; and the awe-inspiring research and practice project on I-Hotel, San Francisco’s anti-eviction human rights and race politics legacy. We ended the day at Spaces Corners, a photography publisher and gallery, talking about its social and crowdsourced project, A Peoples History of Pittsburgh.

The theme of the conference was ‘place and revolution’, discussion panels and presentation approaching this theme from as varied angles as social practice art is varied itself. Stand out session’s included that by artist Jon Rubin on the Conflict Kitchen project, using food to galvanise political and social consciousness across the globe; and the Ethics and Aesthetics of Place panel, which included meaningful discussion and case studies of projects with a clear ethical imperative matched with a high arts value, Public Matters and Skid Row Housing Trust; and presentations from USA projects On The Map|Over the Rhine in Cincinnati, Table Alchemy by Amber Arts in Philadelphia and Wassaic Project, NY.

The conference closed with a keynote from Rick Lowe, founder of the legendary Project Row Houses, artist and recent winner of a MacArthur "genius" fellowship. Rick talked with great humour, passion and compassion about seven things that he has been thinking of around social practice.

His thought of ‘learning how to see place rather than making place’ in particular is prescient for the placemaking sector, with many, and especially those from a social practice approach, questioning a dominant placemaking ideology that is ‘place-making’ rather than ‘place-led’; this comment in particular made me think if the variety of placemaking practice that I identify in the placemaking typology and the relative value in practices placed on working with the value already in place rather than placing value in place from outside. 

City of Asylum houses, Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh. L: House Poem, Huang Xiang, R: Jazz House. 

City of Asylum houses, Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh. L: House Poem, Huang Xiang, R: Jazz House. 

Placemaking typology

An artworked version of my placemaking typology, with explanatory text and example projects has been created by Rachel Gillies. This typology has emerged from my PhD research, firstly from my own need in process to classify projects that I see, but then to also aid the sector.

The typology can be found here as well as below. 

Whilst various types of placemaking may share common concerns, essentially the making of place by actors in the urban realm, there is a need for a clear classification of practice in the sector for several reasons, not least the risk of an attenuation of the term and practice of placemaking. Owen (1984) states that community art’s failure to construct its own theoretical framework was reason for its relative devaluing in the art sector. If the placemaking sector does not create its own theoretical framework it risks a similar reduction of a “naïve romanticism” of its claims to outcomes and a side-lining in urban design and planning as a creative, worthy “welfare arts” (ibid., p29) adjunct to be deployed tactically by social service administrations and for city marketing and regeneration, rather than as a meaningful strategy for urban living (Schneekloth and Shibley 2000 p130). This would only be compounded by the cumulative confusion augmented by the competing demands made and expectations of placemaking (Markusen and Gadwa 2012, Fleming 2007).

It is hoped that the sharing of knowledge across types of placemaking will redress exclusory power practices by uncovering the many different types of placemaking undertaken by different ecologies of practice and people and result in the opening up of a continually negotiated border position that Schneekloth and Shibley (2000) advocates.

A placemaking typology then could illuminate nuanced practice for this professional cohort, as well as clearly articulating to those outside of the placemaking sector the variety of and value in these practices.

The typology will appear in my PhD thesis in this form that has a magnification of social practice placemaking as the focus of my research, and also with an equally weighted form.

Art Tunnel Smithfield paper at AIARG Dublin

I presented my first conference paper on my Dublin case study, Art Tunnel Smithfield, at the All-Ireland Architecture Research Group conference in Dublin at the end of January, in the Architecture or Society session, convened by Emmett Scalon (UoSheffield) and Nuala Flood (Queens University Belfast).

A copy of my paper can be found here and  of the presentation notes and slides, here; and copies of all papers presented in the session can be found here

Opening slide from session, copyright, Emmett Scanlon. 

Opening slide from session, copyright, Emmett Scanlon. 


IdeasFromElse[W]here

This month sees me starting a new research case study, and in the same, a new role – Thinker in Residence for The Drawing Shed’s ‘IdeasFromElse[W]here’ project at Winns Gallery in E17.

IdeasFromElse[W]here is an Arts Lab style project, informed also by the likes of Kaprow, led by artists Sally Labern and Bobby Lloyd, founders of The Drawing Shed and co-curated by artist Jordan McKenzie. From 16th June to 13 July, from a base at Winns Gallery and its surrounding Lloyd Park, E17, artists and members of the public will collaborate in creating artworks and interventions to co-produce a ‘festival of ideas’ that will challenge and propose anew ways of making and presenting art. The artists involved are Leena ChauhanLeah LovettPablo PerezzaratePhil Sanger,Daniella Valz Gen, and NYC’s Art In Odd Places’ Ed Woodham. Anything from film, live writing and art, sculpture, sound, digital and performance will be both informing and incorporated into an evolving event.

The blog will be a part of this, a platform not just to show what has been happening but to act as an adjunct to the conversations, devising, making and presentation of art, and with a nod to my role as Thinker in Residence, a space for critical thought.

I’ll post links to the blog as the project progresses…